Words have a literal meaning

And a much more powerful subjective impact

Keep it Simple

Thirty five percent of the viewer’s perception of you is governed by the sound content; largely the texture of what you have to say. An interview should have the texture of a normal conversation; here are a few suggestions on how to give it that illusion. Simple language

First and foremost, use simple language. Similarly, use quotes, examples, anecdotes, simple friendly statistics, similes, metaphor, even humour in the right place.

A ‘Rotatable hexaform surface mount compression component’ is a horrid, boring, pompous, nerdish phrase if you’re talking about a nut.

Quote – not necessarily attributed

“Well, we’ve all heard of the chap who was so appalled by everything he read about the bad effects of smoking that he gave up reading.”


“Why just on the way here this morning I saw a car on its side in a ditch. On a perfectly straight stretch of road…”


“But the typhoon wasn’t the worst thing. Because our house had been blown away, we had to sleep out in the open. And the snakes all came looking for a bit of warmth. I woke up in the middle of the night to find one sliding into my sleeping bag.”

Humanise Statistics

“It doesn’t sound much if you say it liket hat – a hundred and twenty three metric tonnes. But if dumped it on a football pitch, it’d make a pile nearly as high as a twelve story office block.”


“That’s just like me saying to you, ‘Give me a hundred dollars and I’ll let you have ninety back in a year’s time’. Not a very good bargain, is it?”

Be Positive

Use positive words, phrases, body language, rather than negative. Don’t respond with a negative to a negative:

Q: “So you’ll be cutting down on the facilities you used to offer to old people?”

A: “No, we won’t be cutting down.”

(Apart from the negative, cutting is a very emotive word). Better:

A: “I’m glad to be able to tell you that most people will be offered approximately nine percent more than they have now.”

Attacking Questions

If attacked, you can play sweet innocent or attack yourself:

Q: “My viewers would like to know what you’re doing risking people’s lives like that.” But always attack the issue, not the interviewer

A: “And if that were the case I’d want to know the same thing. But if you study the facts rather than listen to scaremongers – who have a political axe to grind – you’d realise that … etc.”

(Actually that does have a little dig at the host).

No ‘No Comment’ please!

Q: “What was the outcome of the meeting with the unions – will there be a national strike next week?” Not:

A: “I haven’t got anything to say.”


A: “As soon as there’s a definite decision, you’ll be the first to know.”


A: “I certainly hope everything will carry on as normal, and that’s what we’re concentrating on right now.”

The Main Point

Get your main point in early. Examples, etc., are best in threes:

Q: “Mr Lim, why are you making all these people move out of homes where they’re quite happy?”

A: “Everyone these days wants something bigger and better, and public housing owners are no exception. The renovation will give them larger flats, better ventilation. And, most especially, a better resale price.”

Beware needling and bullying
Q: “Do you really expect people to believe that the airport safety arrangements are satisfactory after this?” Stay with it:

A: “Most certainly. Our airport has the most up-to-date … etc.”

Questionable ‘Facts’

Watch out for false (or at least questionable) statements. Don’t respond as if the question might contain even a grain of truth; equally, don’t be negative.

Q: “So the judiciary is no longer independent, just an arm of government?”

A: “I don’t know where you got that idea from. The judicial system is, by any standards, completely independent of any interference. Our system of twelve good men and true… etc.”


You might even find that people misinterpret you:

Q: “So people aren’t going to be any better off than they were before all this?”

You could try a slight pause (almost as if you don’t really believe that he really believes that, then sum up your main point positively: A: “Everyone who pays up in full within seven days – and I hope that’s everyone – will find that he or she will be paying up to seven per cent less tax than last year. And with the minimum bank rate at five and a half per cent, that’s quite a lot of money in anybody’s terms.”


Don’t let him put words in your mouth:

Q: “In effect, you’re saying that your company was wrong to consider operating in Burma?”

Don’t repeat the words, even to deny them:

A: “TGIF will be building a factory in either Burma or Laos within the next twelve months. Exactly where depends on many factors; we’re well aware of our duty to the people and the environment.”

Hypothetical questions

Q: “If you go ahead with this and there’s an economic downturn, your shareholders could lose millions and the entire workforce could lose their jobs?”

Point out that the question is hypothetical. But stay positive. Even if only gently:

A: “Well, I’d like to be able to see into the future. And I’m confident that if I could I’d see the project up and running and employing another three thousand people before the end of next year.”

Leading questions

Q: “So what is going to happen after all this futile to-ing and fro-ing?”

Don’t allow him to get away with it. Perhaps a small grin and:

A: “This to-ing and fro-ing as you put it has already increased the value of the average flat by twelve per cent. That’s not a bad increase for just a week with only one lift working in each block.”

Very leading questions

(some call them lose/lose questions)

Q: “When did you stop beating your wife?”

Navigate your way round that lot. If you admit to beating her you’ve lost; if you claim to have stopped, you’ve lost.

A: “My wife is extremely hale and hearty and well able to take care of herself. And the only thing I ever hit is a golf ball.”

Multiple questions

Multiple questions can be a godsend:

Q: “Just how much will the COE cost this time next year? Is it true the government wants to push it up over the hundred thousand mark? What about all the people who can’t afford to renew their certificates? Will there be more buses and taxis to take care of their needs?”

Great! At least four questions, and you can reply to whichever one gives you the best benefit. Two if you like:

A: “More buses – yes. There will definitely be more buses on the roads next year. And, of course, the level of the COE isn’t decided by the government. It’s set entirely by people like you and me bidding for one.”

Forced choice

: “Would you like to see Barings go under or Leeson get away with it?

You can deal with this in all sorts of ways. You can even answer the question directly and be positive:

A: “I’m sure Barings will be able to weather the storm with a firm hand on the tiller. And Mr Leeson will have to face the music sooner or later. More important right now is making sure this sort of thing can never happen again.”

Loaded questions

Watch out for emotive words and phrases ‘Hiking prices’, ‘dumping staff’, ‘feeble excuse for’ etc.:

Q: “Isn’t it true that you’ve slashed benefits by $145,000 a month?”

Even if it’s true that benefits have been cut, the impact of the word ‘slashed’ can be softened:

A: “There have, indeed, been changes to some of the benefits our staff enjoy – every company in the computer business has had to pull in the reins slightly in these difficult times. And I’m glad to be able to tell you that OceanGate’s salaries are still higher than any comparable company’s.”

That last one added another point: mention your company or organisation’s name as often as seems reasonable. And always in a positive context.

Ending time cues

The seven per cent that viewers remember is quite likely to be the last seven per cent of any discussion. If the interviewer uses a phrase like ‘only a few minutes left’, ‘one final word’, ‘to sum up then’, really get in there with a summary of your main point. Do it right, and you’ve won, hands down. This only works with studio interviews, by the way – location interviews are almost certain to be edited and what you might think is your final point may be lost in the middle, come first, or even not appear at all!

Politicians’ breathing

A bit specialised for this site, but interesting stuff, nevertheless. Useful when you don’t want to let the other chap (interviewer or opposing guest in a discussion) interrupt. You breath halfway through a sentence, not at the end:

A: “And that’s my main concern. We have to consider (BREATH) the rights of the people who have put their reputations on the line here. We have to let them know what (BREATH) the new regulations mean to them. We have to be absolutely certain that whatever (BREATH) the outcome, they have the chance to register with the board for the upgraded version. You see, I’ve always said (BREATH) that it’s one thing … ” etc.

The Pack Shot

If you’re representing a company, brand, church or other organisation remember to mention the name at least three times. And try to associate the name with good connotations.